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Eyes Wide Shut

An antiwar exhibit misses the point.

12:00 AM, Jul 20, 2006 • By JAMIE DEAL
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"CAN YOU HEAR THE SILENCE?" Bishop Steven Charleston, president of the left-wing Episcopal Divinity School in Boston, asked. "You and I can speak for them in silence. We must let our country's leaders know this war must end and never be repeated."

Addressing a June 12 press conference outside the Episcopal Church's general convention in Columbus, Ohio, the bishop was referring to the nearby exhibit "Eyes Wide Open: The Human Cost of War," which, in its full form, comprises roughly 2,500 pairs of combat boots and over 3,000 pairs of shoes. The boots--tagged with name, rank, age, and home state--represent each soldier killed in Iraq; the shoes symbolize dead Iraqi civilians. Unmarked footwear was recently added to represent those who will die as the war continues.

Since January 2004, the American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker group that constructed the display, has brought Eyes Wide Open to cities across the country. Since its members believe that "no war can justify its human cost," the organization advocates immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

Many opponents of the war, including families of American soldiers, have praised the exhibit. Korean War veteran Michael Kerr of California told his local paper that he hopes it makes people "realize that the Iraq war--any war--isn't a video game. There are real people over there losing their lives." Peggy Logue of Ohio, whose son Michael served in the Marines in Iraq, explained to the Columbus Dispatch: "I don't dishonor their service. I do think their lives were wasted because the military did its job but our administration has not done its job." And Larry Syverson of Virginia, whose son serves with the Army in Iraq, told U.S. Newswire: "I hope every member of Congress . . . visits this exhibit and reflects on the urgency of ending this war. Their failure to act could mean that the next pair of boots . . . could be my son's."

But there are also military families who dislike the exhibit. As the Episcopal News Service reported, only a dozen or so pairs of boots were actually donated (one pair belonged to Casey Sheehan), with most of the boots coming from an Army surplus store. Many families have requested that their relative's name be removed.

The Barkeys are one such family. On July 7, 2004, at age 22, Sergeant Michael C. Barkey of the Ohio National Guard died in Ramadi, Iraq. When a sniper's bullet hit a tire on the truck he was towing, it caused a wreck that killed him instantly. For his service, Barkey posthumously received the Purple Heart.

In February 2006, when "Ohio Eyes Wide Open" appeared at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio, Julie Barkey and two other mothers who lost sons in Iraq decided to go see it. She and her two companions left angry. "My son would be very upset [by the exhibit], because we do support the war and the president," she told the Columbus Dispatch. "We're not only protecting our people here, but we're providing freedom for a country that hasn't had any freedom. I feel [my son] died as a hero." Her husband, Harold Barkey, agrees. When I asked the Vietnam veteran if the exhibit dishonored his son's service, he firmly stated, "Absolutely. It's antiwar. It dishonors Mike's memory and the other soldiers who gave their lives in freedom's name because it doesn't represent what they stood for."

The Barkeys asked American Friends to stop using their son's name in the display. As Julie Barkey explained, "[The group] has every right to protest--it's what my son died for. But they have no right to use my son's name to support their agenda. Believe me, it's hard when you lose people, and it takes courage to make a stand. But we can't just cut and run. If we bring the troops home, it would just make it all useless."

Among the families who have lost a loved one in Iraq, Mrs. Barkey believes a significant majority supports the war. It is true that some families have embraced demonstrations like Eyes Wide Open, and have even formed groups demanding immediate withdrawal from Iraq. But these groups are small. Gold Star Families for Peace, founded in part by the Sheehans, claims fewer than 100 families; Gold Star Families Speak Out has less than 50 families.

Nevertheless, the demonstration in Columbus was only one of many. Even with resistance from families like the Barkeys, Eyes Wide Open receives enormous praise from both the antiwar left and the media. Whether it will feature Michael Barkey's name again is uncertain; the American Friends did not respond to inquiries on the subject.

But even if the group did remove his name, they still never asked the Barkeys for permission. If they had, they might have realized that not all military families consider themselves victims.

Jamie Deal is an intern at The Weekly Standard.